Torchwood writer John Fay excited by The New World, plus why killing Ianto was ‘right thing to do’

Torchwood members Captain Jack Harkness and Gwen Cooper

Torchwood members Captain Jack Harkness and Gwen Cooper

TORCHWOOD screenwriter John Fay says he is very excited about the new series, which is ‘more ambitious’ than Children of Earth.

Fay, from Merseyside, wrote two episodes of Cof E –  including the one where Ianto Jones died – and is the only British writer that showrunner Russell T Davies has brought into Torchwood:The New World’s creative team.

We met for a pint in a Liverpool pub to chat about Torchwood old and new, and why he offed everyone’s favourite Welsh tea boy. I must say too how grateful I was to John for the interview and being so generous with his time.

The New World

John recently returned from three weeks in Los Angeles, where he worked to storyline the 10-episode series alongside Davies, producer Julie Gardner and fellow writers Jane Espenson, John Shiban and Doris Egan.

It was an exerience that clearly left an impression on him, and has given him high hopes for TNW.

He said: “I’m very excited about The New World.

“Like anything in life you can rest on your laurels, or you can try to push on again and achieve something new. That is what Russell has done. On Children of Earth he had a very clear and defined vision, but what he has outlined for The New World is equally, if not more ambitious than before.

“I’m very proud of CofE and it was one of the few things I have been involved with when I watched the DVDs and thought ‘this is good’. Normally I look for flaws.

“It is early days for The New World, but having met the other writers and talked to Russell, I’ve every reason to think we’ll get somewhere close to where we were before.”

Torchwood’s American Dream?

John added he has no concerns about any possible Americanisation on the show after it became a co-production between the BBC and Starz.

“I was concerned when there was talk of the Torchwood going to Fox,” he said. “Then when Julie asked me if I wanted to write for the show again, she said they were working with Starz.

“To be honest I’d never heard of Starz, like most people I expect, but after looking into it I saw that the guy who runs the network used to run HBO. That was all I needed to know.

“He has to be ambitious but has one hell of a track record of producing adult and intelligent drama, just like Torchwood. What’s more Julie and Russell are still in charge. I’m sure it will stay as people would hope.”

Meeting his fellow writers in Los Angeles was a daunting experience John said. It also gave him his first taste of the American -style production process, as the writing team worked from 9-5 each day to hammer out the elements of each episode.

He added: “I mean, fucking hell, Russell has assembled one hell of a team and then there’s me! I was very impressed by the other writers when I went in to meet them.

“I knew Jane Espenson’s work from Battlestar Galactica, while I was delighted to talk to John Shiban too because Breaking Bad is one of my favourite shows at the moment. They all really know their stuff and that kind of expertise means everyone raises their game.

“We worked from 9-5 each day to storyline the show, but in much greater detail than I was used to from working in England. For instance in Children of Earth I was in Cardiff for three days with Russell, Julie, James Moran, Euros Lyn, Peter Bennet and Brian Minchin to work out the episodes from Russell’s vision.

“That was more ‘we want it to be kind of like this’, a looser structure, whereas in America we beat out every detail of each episode and went one step at a time. It was fascinating to see that approach.”

The result of all that hard work is a story told over 10 episodes with a worldwide focus John said, while not giving anything else away. That focus will inevitably shift from Cof E given the scorched earth fashion that series ended in with the Hub destroyed and the Torchwood team split up – seemingly for good.

John said: “We are starting from scratch to some degree, but what helps us is we have got such well established characters in Jack and Gwen that people know and love.

“We will be bringing new characters in too for a new audience, and telling a story that encompasses and could affect the whole world. Children of Earth was the same, but we will see more of the world this time than then.

“Obviously Torchwood is an established show with an clear history which we will refer too, but we have to embrace people who maybe haven’t seen any Torchwood before. If you get too self-referential it can get dull, so what’s gone before will be referenced, but in a subtle way.”

Killing Ianto Jones

For John, what’s gone before includes the death of one of the show’s most popular characters, Ianto Jones, in episode four of Children of Earth.

Ianto’s murder at the hands of The 456 represented one of the most dramatic moments in the Torchwood history and prompted a massive backlash from the show’s fans, demanding he was resurrected.In fact I kept looking around the Liverpool pub we met in to watch out for irate Ianto-ites massing in a corner.

Ianto Jones is killed by The 456 as Captain Jack watches on helplessly

Ianto Jones is killed by The 456 as Captain Jack watches on helplessly

John saw this loyalty as he puts it first hand when he attended Gallifrey One is Los Angeles earlier this year, but still believes the decision to kill him was the correct one.

“Russell wanted that to happen, although they are my words,” he said. “It was absolutely the right thing to do though from the point of view of the story and what it gave to the last episode.

“The strength of Torchwood and Russell’s vision is that you don’t know the heroes are going to survive. That’s been well established now!

“That adds a sense of jeopardy to the show which leaves everyone wondering what will happen next.”

He added Ianto’s death also allowed him to illustrate one of the costs of immortality for Captain Jack.

“In my mind, I was always aware that Jack had gone through this situation many times before, and that was really interesting to me. How do you have a relationship and fall in love with someone when you know – absolutely know – you will be around to see them die?

“That’s a real tragedy that Jack has to carry around with him, as well as a fascinating weight to hang around a character’s shoulders.”

And yet despite the reaction that scene generated, John still feels it was missing … something.

“At the time, Children of Earth was the first thing I had written after my dad died and I wonder if I feel that way because I was writing about my dad in some way through that time,” he mused.

“I still think I didn’t quite nail it. There is a line there that I never managed to put my finger on, or maybe didn’t want to.”

He added: “The line people quote back to me from Children of Earth was from the scene around the Cabinet table, where one of them says ‘if we can’t identify the least intelligent 10% of children, then what are league tables for?’

“When you get something right it stays with you, and I think that line of dialogue does. In the death scene, I wish there was something like that, but the scene and episode had a very strong reaction and I’m pleased about that.

“Maybe that’s the perfectionist in me talking too. They say you should never be completely satisfied with your work because that’s when it’s time to retire, so maybe it’s a good thing I feel that way.”

John’s quest towards perfection has already started when we spoke, with the first draft of his TNW work already with Russell T Davies in Los Angeles.

What that will become is for the future though, and as we sat in the pub, I leant forward to ask him my final question, the question I’m sure every Torchwood fan would ask given the chance.

Will you bring Ianto back, John?

He pauses, takes a drink from his pint, then leans forward, pondering  ………

“I’m not going to answer that Neil, you’ll just have to watch and see,” he said.

* Torchwood The New World will begin filming later this year and broadcast in 2011.

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39 thoughts on “Torchwood writer John Fay excited by The New World, plus why killing Ianto was ‘right thing to do’

  • Very interesting interview, and two good things came out of this :
    1. It is clearly said (by the WRITER) that Jack is in love with Ianto. Thank you. That kind of missed in the show, didn’t it? And maybe the “brilliant line” from this scene could have been a “I love you” from the Captain. But anyway, glad we sorted that out : some Gwen / Jack shippers were still saying that it wasn’t really love …
    2. Little cliffhanger at the end, still. I’m not putting too much hope on this (that way I won’t be too disappointed if nothing happens, and I will be damn happy if it does), but it’s nice to see that he doesn’t exterminate every bit of begging from the public, like RTD does when he says and says again that Ianto is dead for good, etc.
    I’ll finish with this : when you kill a show’s best characters, you kill the show itself. Suzie, Owen, Tosh and Ianto were all killed (several times, for some of them) in two seasons and five episodes. And who do we have left? Gwen, who is by far the less interesting character, and Jack, who is the hero, I’ll admit that, but it doesn’t mean HE is the show. Remember Doctor Who? Jack wasn’t that nice, or sympathetic. It’s when Torchwood Team appeared that he became the true and good Jack Harkness. Without all of them, the show lost its soul. I was completely addicted to “Torchwood”, but knowing that soon I would watch a show without Tosh, Owen, Ianto and Wales, it completely broke it. I’m really not interested in the new season. I’ll just keep in touch with it, checking from time to time if anything interesting comes up.
    That being said, Ianto Jones, may you rest in peace.

  • @JB: That had nothing to do with his immortality. He killed his grandson because he recognized the necessity of doing so, and lost what was left of his daughter’s good regard for him as a result. There is a different set of implications in those events.

  • Right thing to do?

    As if losing his own grandson and daugher does not smack of Jack’s immortality?

  • The downfall ofTorchwood, for me, was when they killed Owen and Tosh off. The 5 main actors played off each other so well that the show was destroyed when they decided to only have 2 of the cast remain. TW was always a fun, campy, snarky and also dramatic, show, but never should they have gone full drama, because the show was ruined. I do not see any way that this new season is going to be liked by anyone.

  • Can’t wait for more Captain Jack!! Bring it on…

  • Thanks for this – it’s nice to hear about the background to things, this new series and previous ones. Fay seems like a nice guy – l’m looking forward to TW 4 😉

  • Lovely interview – first time I’ve seen John interviewed I believe. Can’t wait for the new series!

  • Could you kill some of Ianto’s fans as well, please?

  • Hope the the 2011 Series of Torchwood doesn’t suck and picks up a good NEW fan-base!! I love the writing team they’ve assembled! RTD, Jane E, all of them, even the ones we don’t know yet!

    I hope Jack comes back as more of a hero-type figure as we knew him in Doctor Who and the 2nd series of Torchwood, as opposed to the anti-hero we left him at the end of CoE. Also wish they would bring in more of Mid-Shipman Frame! I can’t get enough of how CUTE Russell Tovey is in every show he acts!

  • ” it was the right thing to do, and it’s one of the reasons Children of Earth is an excellent drama”

    Damnit! Now we are screwed for S4: no chance that S4 will be excellent drama as no more Ianto to kill….We will have to introduce new characters and make the viewers being attached to them with some misleading publicity in order to make again excellent drama. And as Jack cannot die and as Gwen is not a fan’s favorite it will be the only way.

    For new viewers: DON’T GET ATTACHED TO NEW CHARACTERS as they will all have to die in order to make excellent drama.

    What? You watch for characters? Be careful….

  • Right thing to do? To kill perfectly good, loved by fans and constructive character only to show that “shit happens” (even if you’re immortal) – that was “right” thing? That was “drama” they think? Really?
    Well, I don’t agree. I think it was poor writing and astonishing inability to see the strength and potential of the characters and storyline.

    The truth is with Ianto they killed unique feature of sci-fi show – successful duet of two fascinating male characters, only because “Russel” thought that this was “drama” and mr. Fay thought that seeing how Jack constantly loses his loved ones is fascinating. But it isn’t.
    I think they just went for the most impact and used the simplest method. It wasn’t “drama” – it was cheating and making fans go WTF by using their interest and love of the characters.
    CoE was terrible. There was poor writing, characters turned into plot devices, absurd plotholes and complete lack of logic. Writers destroyed not only Ianto, but Jack’ personality and Torchwood.
    I wish they stop insulting what during first two seasons was funny, sexy and fascinating show by saying that killing it was “the right thing to do”.
    I don’t believe that these writers can do anything right anymore. I don’t believe them and don’t believe in them.

  • Bald Jason


    Just wanted to add my name to those fans who’ve loved Torchwood from the beginning, who loved Ianto, but who are also fine that he died. He’s dead. He should stay that way. It was tragic and I cried, but one of the reasons I love this show is that it’s not afraid to kill off characters – and that’s true of all the shows that I love. The denial of death in popular culture is what disturbs me.

  • It is not so much that he was a “whiney baby,” in Cyberwomen as it was that he completely snapped as he was suffering from PTSD and was using “Lisa” as the one thing keeping him together.

    Ianto’s death upsets me because the death was randomly made by ignorance and previous series showed us that those two, Jack and Ianto, had forethought and strategy that would most likely prevent that situation. It wasn’t in the heat of battle like Toshiko or, to a lesser extent, Owen when Copley shot him. I don’t want the crew to use this as a means to push Jack and Gwen together either. Yes, they have chemistry and I don’t exactly want her to die but that dead horse has been beat. She chose Rhys and Jack chose Ianto.

  • Imzadi44


    Great post. I loved CoE. I was sad when Ianto died, but I will watch TNW.

    You don’t have to pay for Starz if you have Netflix.

    Torchwood. They are coming back.

  • *Yawn*

  • Can they get any more desperate trying to entice the fanbase they lost back to watching? Oooh, watch and see if we bring Ianto back. Sorry, even if they do it’s too little too late. I cannot even beging to understand a show that ditches it’s best actors and keeps a leading duo fighting it out for Worst Performance By A Science Fiction Actor. Russell T Davies told fans to move, I sure have but it’s pretty funny to see them out there now trying draw people back. I give a Torchwood US one season then oblivion, there’s no way I’d pay for Starz to see it.

  • I was going to post a comment (well, I still am, but you know what I mean), but Nikki’s pretty much hit the nail on the head. Ianto’s death is very sad, yes, but it was the right thing to do, and it’s one of the reasons Children of Earth is an excellent drama — not just an excellent Torchwood story, but an excellent series in its own right. And, consequently, it’s by far the best tale Torchwood has ever told.

  • Maybe that missing line was Jack telling Ianto he loved him too. Perhaps it sounds trite to television writers, but it seems that a lot of the more pissed-off fans are more angry about that than Ianto’s death alone.

    I will be watching series four, because I have faith in the show, despite my strong beliefs that Ianto didn’t need to die; at least not YET. Not all the pain and disaster had to happen at once – that doesn’t necessarily equate to “good television”.

    But I love Jack, I love Gwen, and life goes on. We can only wait and see.

  • Wait and see for what?

    No thanks I follow the writers advice and watch something else. They saying many things but didn’t do it. So now dead dead dead get over it but wait, just watch and see. This show have nothing more to show to me.

    Right thing to do? To show Jack is an idiot and Ianto too? To show Torchwood team is a bunch of incompetent twats? Oh I see.

  • glad he's dead


    To get rid of a character that was garbage since they made him a whiny crybaby in “Cyberwoman” I’d say.

    Now get over it! Gareth did.

  • I just want to say that NOT all fans are against the killing of Ianto. I´m a huge TW-fan. And I really really loved Ianto. I loved the lovestory between him and Jack too. And even if I would have liked to see a little more of that I totally understand why he had to die. Torchwood is not for the faint at heart. It´s dark and dangerous. I think the show got better with each season and CoE is one of the best things I´ve ever seen on TV. And Ianto´s deathscene is definatly the most gripping piece of drama I have ever seen! My respect for RTD and his team is huge. And so is my expectations for TNW. Thats all I wanted to say.
    Thank´s for the interview.

    • I’d say the vast majority of fans weren’t against the idead of killing Ianto off…most people saw it as being a sad but beautiful part of a wonderful piece of television. The sad thing is a vocal minority took it upon themselves to speak on behalf of all fans of the show, and indeed, continue to do so to this day.

      I expect poor John Fay will now receive the same kind of personal abuse these so-called “fans” have dished out to the likes of James Moran and RTD for making these comment. Poor guy.

  • I really like that it is no longer dead is dead, because that’s so boring especially since Torchwood is Sci-Fi, and made me think that it’s probably better to think about the show as dead as well.

    I have to disagree that killing Ianto was the right thing to do though. Jack would have made the sacrifice anyway (he did it before when he gave Jasmine to the fairies), and I think Jack “killing” his grandson would have been a lot more dramatic if Ianto had been there to withness it and then for both of them to deal with it afterwards. Though I still don’t get why the couldn’t use Clem instead because storywise that would have made a lot more sense.
    And the way Ianto died? Very badly written. It just showed that Torchwood was not ready and that Captain Jack is not the leader we all thought he was.
    Listen alien- planet earth is SO not givining in.
    Virus is released.
    Jack runs out.
    Jack yells at the guards to get gasmasks, O2 containers etc.
    Jack comes back.
    Jack realizes that Ianto is mortal.
    Jack takes it ALL back.
    Torchwood’s incompetence causes the death of all the people in Thames House.
    Ianto dies and Jack never even tried to get him a gasmask,
    Guy in hazmat suit survives. Tell me, since when does a hazmat suit cure you from getting infected by a virus. It’s a bit like putting on a condom after having sex.

    Maybe it would have been easier to accept the death of Ianto Jones if the scene would have made more sense.

    Bring back Ianto. Show us that you can do better. Then I’m willing to give S4 a try. If not I’ll just call myself a fan of the classic Torchwood, with the old team, with Jack, Tosh, Ianto, Owen and Gwen and do what if been told to do, move on-and away from the show.

  • “why killing ianto was right thing to do”…

    Well, let’s see:
    To upset a big part of the core fans?
    To upset the core fans who don’t care about Ianto but are now upset to hear the other fans complain about Ianto death since one year?
    To upset the Gwen’s fans because some fans wish she died instead of Ianto?
    To upset some hardcore John Barrowman’s fans because the fans complaining about Ianto are raining on their parade?

    What a clever idea!

    “You’ll just have to watch and see”…

    Ha ha ha ha ha Yes, like COE when we were told the relationship between Jack and Ianto would progress… Ha ha ha ha ha

    • Wait and see… What?

      How Jack becomes a promiscuous, flirting and shagging with everything that’s gorgeous (Quoting Toshi :P), and Gwen and Rhys probably having problems again because she runs out leaving her husband and the baby?… Yeah, Torchwoodl is ready…

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